ADDRESSES: Home—Washington, DC. Office—Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171-0002.
CAREER: Sportswriter and investigative journalist. Boston Globe, Boston, MA, reporter and sportswriter; Washington Post, Washington, DC, investigative reporter.
(With Ray Sanchez) The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream, Villard Books (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Steve Fainaru and fellow journalist Ray Sanchez have captured one of the most amazing sports stories of recent times in The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream. "Even readers with little interest in baseball will find this book intriguing," wrote Paul Kaplan and Morey Berger in Library Journal. It focuses on Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, an exceptional Cuban pitcher who was forbidden to play when Fidel Castro's regime learned that he planned to defect. He fled Cuba in 1997 in a thirty-foot fishing boat, and a year later he commanded a six-and-a-half million dollar contract from the New York Yankees team that captured the World Championship.
Robert Gonzalez Echevarria noted in the New York Times Book Review that the authors "avoid the hackneyed plot line that would have El Duque rising from poverty and oppression to triumph…. The story is much more sinuous and nuanced, and Hernandez is not the only subject." Fainaru and Sanchez traveled to Cuba to interview El Duque's family, including his father, Arnaldo, the first "El Duque," who is also the father of San Francisco Giants player Livan Hernandez. Arnaldo told the authors that a high-ranking member of Castro's regime had once suggested that because of his penchant for producing great pitchers, Arnaldo might be given an island, booze, and women with whom he could father more. They note that because of Arnaldo's drinking and freewheeling lifestyle, Hernandez was forced to take on considerable family responsibility.
Hernandez left the island with the help of Joe "The Fat Man" Cubas, an exiled Cuban working as a building contractor in Florida who made his living spiriting talented athletes out of Cuba. "The truth about Hernandez's escape from Cuba is finally told here," Echevarria noted. "It was neither on a raft nor on a yacht, but on a fishing boat surreptitiously hired for that purpose. How this was planned and carried out to evade the Cuban police and coast guard is a riveting story" of determination and nerve, Echevarria remarked. Once Hernandez was safely outside of Castro's reach, Cubas took him to the Bahamas, then Costa Rica, instead of the United States, so that he could avoid the major league draft of players living stateside. San Francisco Chronicle reviewer G. Allen Johnson wrote that "this excellent piece of investigative journalism climaxes with good old-fashioned storytelling—a fast-paced and exciting account of Hernandez's escape at the bottom of a boat in the dead of night, followed by days on a deserted island—but also serves as an informal socio-economic and political look into Fidel Castro's regime." A Business Week writer observed that in addition to being the story of a family and an investigation of the "would-be sports agents," it is also "a social commentary on Castro's Cuba, a place of such aching poverty that kids fashion baseballs out of cork studded with nails. Cuba's national pastime has a purity that America's has lost. It is a game played with the desperate passion of a people trying to momentarily forget their gloom and hardscrabble isolation." In a Washington Post review, Saul Landau observed that the book, "a semi-adventure story of a Cold War money game, centers on a smarmy group of characters who want to get rich by luring some of Cuba's finest hurlers to the United States." Other figures in the book are Cubas's cousin, Juan Ignacio, who was sentenced to fifteen years in a Cuban jail for his part in the operation, and Tom Cronin, a Cape Cod real estate agent who participated in Cubas's grand scheme.
The Duke of Havana "benefits from detailed, ground-level reporting everywhere from the sandlots and seedy bars of Cuba to the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium," according to Paul E. Steiger in the Wall Street Journal. Similarly, Booklist contributor GraceAnne DeCandido called the work "exhaustively researched by writers who appear to have been everywhere and talked to everyone." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Duke of Havana "part sports narrative, part tale of Cold War intrigue," and concluded that it is "a first-rate read."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream, p. 1218.
Boston Herald, April 6, 2001, Bob Clark, "All-Star Baseball Picks: Here's a Starting Lineup of Books That Celebrate America's Pastime," p. 58.
Business Week, May 7, 2001, "Beisbol Story," review of The Duke of Havana.
Economist, July 7, 2001, review of The Duke of Havana, p. 103.
Grand Rapids Press, July 22, 2001, "Authors Provide Off-field Look at Favorite Game," p. J7.
Library Journal, February 1, 2001, Paul Kaplan, Morey Berger, review of The Duke of Havana, p. 90.
New York Times, March 11, 2001, Buster Olney, "Book Tries to Fill in Blanks about Hernandez," p. 5.
New York Times Book Review, May 6, 2001, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, review of The Duke of Havana, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, February 19, 2001, review of The Duke of Havana, p. 82.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 2001, G. Allen Johnson, "'El Duque"s Story a Compelling Read," p. E2.
Sports Illustrated, May 14, 2001, Tom Verducci, "Books: Two Pitchers and Two Journeys—With Wildly Different Itineraries."
Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2001, Paul E. Steiger, review of The Duke of Havana, p. W8.
Washington Post, April 1, 2001, Saul Landau, review of The Duke of Havana, p. T9.*